Sæhrímnir and Jörmungandr, Part 2 of 2
Sæhrímnir and Jörmungandr, Part 2 of 2
“They thought calling in scabs would be cheaper,” Jo said, cackling as Chad clung to her back and they swerved around a semi on her shockingly orange Vespa.
“What?” Chad asked, half uncertain what she’d said, and what he’d made out didn’t seem to collate.
“The builders are striking over unsafe conditions, so the company brought in scabs. This’ll shut’em down for a few days, and those bloodsuckers’ll be pissed when they have to pay for a civilian’s death benefits. Did he have any family?”
“I don’t know, probably. Do you work for the construction unions?” Chad asked. The first time he’d met her, Jo had been dressed up like a geisha, blackened teeth and all, but that didn’t say much about her form of employment.
“No way,” Jo said, letting go of the handle bars and turning around to show Chad her hands. “Soft as a baby’s.”
“…What was on that napkin?”
“Pull Me,” she said, laughing again.
They continued through the city. Jo didn’t seem to read the signs that blurred past them, like the ones saying 40MPH, or Stop, or Wrong Way.
Her driving was frightening enough, but the last time Chad had been on two wheels it was a Honda 50, he’d worn a helmet, and he’d been riding over dirt. He kept imagining his face hitting the asphalt.
It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d had his hands on the handle bars, or if she’d kept hers on them at least.
“You having a nice time?” Jo asked, peering back at him. He could see the corner of her mouth curling.
“…Yeah. We headed to Sixteenth and Freemont?” he asked. It was the second address on the list, where something horrible was going to happen to Smithee, if their first stop had been the start of a pattern.
“Yeah,” Jo said, “It’s just…. My nipples are starting to tingle.”
Chad hadn’t felt anything soft or pillowy, but his hands had slowly made their way up her abdomen over the course of many sudden turns.
“Sorry,” he said, planting his hands firmly on her shoulders.
“I thought you liked big girls,” she said, and even with the wind whipping past them he heard her snicker.
“We’re here,” she said. They slid to a frighteningly-sudden stop.
“So,” Tobie said, trying to find his land-legs as Jo rolled her Vespa into an alley and chained the wheel, “You gonna drop a bucket of scorpions on his head?”
“That’s an awesome idea,” she said, bolting up. “…But what about the poor scorpions?”
“Yeah… I wasn’t thinking.”
“…D’you ever think- You know how, when you take a plane someplace, you feel empty afterwards- kinda like sex, but that’s not my point. It’s like you leave part of yourself behind….”
They’d parked a couple of blocks away, and Chad assumed they were early by the way Jo was ambling. He’d been trying to follow her train of thought, but having just witnessed a scene from the Omen play out in real life, followed by an extremely life-or-death ride on her scooter, he felt a bit frazzled.
“What I’m saying,” Jo continued, “If you caught a plane, and you kept going, transferring and transferring, until you went all the way around the world and back home again. You think you’d meet yourself?”
“…I don’t know,” Chad said. It didn’t sound likely, but she’d probably meant her question metaphorically. He hoped she had.
“It might be like one of those time-travel meeting-yourself paradox things,” Jo said, “but- You know, seeing yourself, it’s something you can’t do. Except for mirrors, but that’s not really seeing yourself. I think you might understand everything, or a lot anyway- I’d tell myself a joke…. I’m sure I’d laugh.”
“…So, why’d the time-traveling chicken cross the-”
“No,” Jo said, stopping in her tracks. “No chicken jokes.”
Chad had been distracted by her rambling, but now he looked around.
They were in the middle of the crosswalk on Sixteenth, at the intersection of Sixteenth and Freemont. That was where they were supposed to meet Smithee.
“Are we just gonna stand here?” he asked. It was pretty quiet, no cars in sight. It was about 8 o’ clock and in the center of a business district, so no surprise really, but standing in the middle of the street still made him nervous.
Jo seemed lost in thought.
“I’m sorry about the chicken thing-”
“Hush,” she said. Tobie heard foot steps, and a smile slowly strained Jo’s lips.
“Chad, you stupid fuck,” Smithee said, strolling out to meet them.
Smithee was still sporting the tight jeans and button-up-short-sleeve look. No one had the balls to tell him that look only flew in England, and here it usually meant you were part of the public-park-bathroom-club.
“Shutup,” Jo said, holding up a finger.
“Who’s this?” Smithee asked.
“I don’t give my name to dead men,” Jo said. “You know my pop actually said that one time?”
Chad didn’t bother telling her that she’d just said it too, and it had actually been pretty cool until she ruined it.
“…What?” Smithee said.
“So, here’s the deal,” Jo said, pulling something from her pocket. “This is a key, there’s a box at the station on 43rd Street-”
“What?” Smithee said; he’d never been very bright.
“Safe-ty de-pos-it box. Sub-way sta-tion. 43rd Street-”
“Why dintcha just put it in a bag, Bitch?!”
“Bag o’ hammers, right?” Jo said, giving Chad a wink. “Key!” she said, tossing it on the asphalt, “Get da key!”
Jo started to back them up as Smithee knelt down. Chad heard a car coming, so maybe Jo was just getting them out of the way, but he was sure there had to be something else.
Smithee fumbled trying to pick up the silver key with his fat fingers. At first it looked like it had just slipped, but then Chad noticed the fishing line in Jo’s hand, the creepy smile on her lips, and the rumbling of a tuned Mustang.
Smithee looked up, his face red with rage, only noticing he’d taken part in a Bugs Bunny routine as a jet-black Mustang careened around the corner. The brakes squealed just before impact, but it wasn’t enough. Smithee’s knees snapped as he wrapped around the hood.
The Mustang only stopped when it smashed headlong into the brick wall of a snazzy dress shop.
“Oh my God!” a man screamed, falling out of the driver’s side door of the Mustang. “Oh my God! What did I-” He was interrupted as a cherry-red Charger made the same turn, barreling into him and then his car.
Chad turned away as a stream of Detroit muscle made its way toward the same corner.
“I couldn’t ‘ve planned it better myself- Oh wait,” Jo said.
“These assholes do this shit the first Friday of every month,” she said, leading him back down the street and back to her Vespa.
“…So, you don’t like street races?” Chad asked, jumping as he heard another crunching impact.
“Nah, they can be fun, but those stupid shits almost hit my pop a couple months back.”
Chad heard someone scream, “Shit man! It’s gonna go!” and then an explosion that made his ears ring.
“I’m starting to think… maybe you’re….”
“What?” Jo asked.
“…not a good person-”
“Says the bank-robber,” she said straddling her Vespa and turning the key. “Hop on, Mister Moral-High-Ground.”
Tobie had just seen something he couldn’t un-see. He was seriously considering trading in his Civic for a commuter-pass.
He thought he knew Jo pretty well and kept telling himself there had to be something more to this than random havoc, but he felt like his soul was withering.
The cold didn’t help. The last map in the list was more confusing than the first two. He’d assumed it would make sense when he got there, and it had, even operating on auto-pilot.
He’d made his way to a dark warehouse in the darkest corner of a shipping complex, climbed a stack of steel crates, and found a perch in the rafters.
He was now certain this wasn’t a joke, at least not a joke on him alone, but having seen a man impaled and at least fifteen cars in a pileup, he didn’t want to see what came next.
Tobie was trying his best to think happy thoughts as he heard a car pull up outside, but he quickly fell into an odd circular pattern. He would try to think of something happy and think of Jo’s lips in a sweet smile, the kind he only made after a meal, when they were alone and lazing around the house. He’d think of Jo and then see that wreck again.
He was back to thinking of Jo’s smile when the big door to that warehouse opened, letting in the moonlight and making a man in the doorway look like a shadow puppet.
Tobie glanced around, looking for any planes that might be falling out of the sky, but the extra light hadn’t revealed any Goldbergian devices.
He froze, noticing something out of place, something orange and soft. He was sure it smelled like a sunny forest grove. It was in the rafters on the other side of the warehouse.
The orange puff twitched and Tobie barely made out Jo waving at him and a dark figure perched to Jo’s left. Tobie waved back, but he was so drained that it took a lot of effort.
“Who the fuck are you?” the man at the entrance said, and Tobie jumped in place, nearly falling from his rafter.
“A child of God,” a new voice said, and Tobie saw a man stepping out of the shadows. He looked pretty normal but seemed to be wearing a priest outfit, and it isn’t normal to find a priest in a dark warehouse.
“Where’s Chad?” the first man asked; this guy must have been Reilly, according to Jo’s notes, and the second man was Father Richard Michaelson, which meant Jo had led him to the crash-pad of a serial-murdering-priest.
“…Exactly where he is meant to be, I suppose- You are an evil man,” Father Michaelson said, the very long knife in his hand glittered in the moonlight.
“Shit,” Reilly said. He drew a pistol and fired in one go.
It looked like a clean hit to the chest, Tobie thought, but he realized his mistake when the priest didn’t fall. He just held out his knife and ran forward.
Reilly turned tail and fired wildly to cover his exit, but the priest chased after him.
Tobie only had a map and a few chicken scratches to go by, but he was sure that hadn’t been the totality of Jo’s plan.
He looked over to where Jo had been perched but found empty darkness.
“This is really bad,” Chad said, clinging to Jo’s back as she drove her Vespa slightly faster than she had before.
“Yeah, I know,” Jo said, “I thought Michaelson would be better at killing people- I guess he mostly goes after weaklings.”
“No! I mean Reilly’s going for Robin- I know he is. And now he’s super pissed!”
“I’ve got a contingency plan,” she said. The scooter’s tires squealed as they slid to a stop. Jo hopped off.
Tobie first noticed Jo’s outstretched hand, trying to clap, and then the payphone behind her.
“That’s all I’ve got,” he said, handing her a dime and two nickles as he climbed off the scooter.
She plunked in the coin but then paused with the receiver in her hand. Tobie watched as her eyes squeezed shut and her face started to blush under the street light.
“Okay,” Jo said, dialing a number with a flick of her fingers. “…It’s ringing,” she said as tears started to roll down her cheeks. “Daddy!? …Valorie, put my pop on the phone. …Daddy!? There’s this man…. I was hanging around with Tobie at Robin’s house- you don’t know her, and there’s this man- He has a gun Daddy….”
She continued to cry and sniffle as she fed him Robin’s address. “Please, hurry! …And try not to hurt Robin,” she said, an after thought before she hung up. “Okay then.”
“Okay, what?” Chad asked.
He’d been focused on listening to the voice on the other end of the receiver, unsuccessfully, and now he noticed how weak his knees felt. The world seemed to be spinning. “Is your dad a cop?” He asked, because that might mean Robin was safe, if he was some kind of super-cop.
He hadn’t even thought of calling the police. Even if it meant he would have gone up for a few dozen robberies, Robin would have been safe. He would have given anything to take back the day, to have turned himself in that morning.
His moment of selflessness, or self pity, was interrupted by Jo’s snicker. “My pop’s not police,” she said, dragging him back to her scooter.
He climbed on, and they took off like a popped champagne cork. The first few miles of their high-speed trip across town seemed to take forever.
Images started floating into Tobie’s field of view, Robin lying dead in the entryway of her house, blood pooling on the floor, or in the kitchen with a belt around her neck, the images wouldn’t stop.
He snapped back to reality with Jo staring into his eyes as she pinched his cheek.
“We’re here,” she said. And that wasn’t a joke. They were parked in the street in front of Robin’s white clapboard house.
It was quiet, and that seemed like a good thing at first, but then Tobie realized corpses don’t make a sound.
He tried to climb off the scooter, planning to pound on Robin’s door and probably frighten her grandmother, but Jo stopped him.
“It’s all okay-”
“What’s okay, Jo!? She could be dead already!”
“Stop bein’ a sissy… look,” she said, pointing at the ground next to them.
Chad followed her finger down to where there should have been asphalt, but there was something else in the dark. It was like a lever, like the kind of thing they used to use to switch train tracks, a wooden handle, steel at the bottom.
It was an axe with most of the blade buried in a man’s back.
Chad fell off the Vespa and crawled backwards along the asphalt until his head clunked against an Oldsmobile across the street.
Jo walked over to him slowly and knelt down at his side. “…I thought you used to rob banks,” she said, poking at his shoulder with her finger.
“I did the driving.”
“Then why’ve I been driving all day?”
“…I’ve never driven a scooter, and I wasn’t very good anyway-”
“Modesty is a sin-”
“Jo.” It was a new voice, deep, like rain on a steel roof.
Chad saw the shock on Jo’s face, and turned around, certain anything that shocked Jo was something to be frightened of.
It was a giant, bigger than Chad anyway, dressed in old-school bike leather. He had black hair like tar rolling over his shoulders, a gray beard like steel wool, and a deep black hole where there should have been a left eye.
“This is my pop,” Jo said as she started building up to tears again.
“Declan,” the biker said.
Chad was a little curious if that was a first name or last, and how it was possible for Jo to be the daughter of a grizzled old man who looked like he was waiting around to die at Ragnarok. “…I’m Chad.”
“This a new boyfriend?” Declan asked.
“No way,” Jo said, shaking her head. “Tobie and me are totally in love- Chad’s going out with Tobie’s ex-girlfriend. What I told you was mostly true, except for me being at Robin’s house.”
“So, you used me to help out a total stranger?”
“Chad’s a friend, and I didn’t mean to,” Jo said as she started to hiccup and wipe at her eyes with the backs of her wrists.
Chad didn’t know her well enough to be sure, but she seemed to be actually crying now.
“You know I’m trying to go straight,” Declan said, and Jo slowly nodded.
“D-Daddy’s trying to go straight. He’s working as an enforcer now,” she said, for Chad’s benefit he assumed.
“…And what’d he do before- What did you do before?” Chad asked.
Declan slowly walked around the Vespa and knelt down over the corpse half-hidden behind it. There was an awful noise, slopping and cracking, and he came back up holding the axe in one hand and the belt around Reilly’s waist in the other.
“Just ask next time. If you need help. And you were rude on the phone-”
“I-I’m s-sorry,” Jo said, still whimpering.
“You need to say sorry to Valorie,” Declan said, mounting a matte-black chopper and slinging the body over his lap. “Nice meeting you,” he said. He turned the key, and the engine roared as he sped off.
“…I won’t do it,” Jo said, her tears having evaporated.
“Say sorry to Valorie.” She jumped to her feet and brushed at the dust on her knees.
“It’s not like you said that much-”
“I know, right? …So,” she said getting back on her Vespa, “if you have to tell Robin about this, leave me out. I don’t want her bad mouthing me to Tobie, and don’t talk about my dad, or… he might come getcha,” she said, dragging her thumb across her throat.
She nodded, smiling as she turned the key in her scooter.
“Jo,” Chad said.
“No problem,” she said. “But don’t fall for me, ’cause I’m taken.”
Tobie sat on the couch in his overly large industrial-conversion walk-up flat. He was staring at the Mikey Vole alarm clock on his coffee table, which was in the same ballpark as his watch, and read about 10 o’ clock.
Jo made his own hours, frequently crawling into Tobie’s bed in the early hours of the morning. If it was an average day Tobie wouldn’t have been worried.
He’d gone home after sneaking away from that warehouse, because there was no where else he could go. There was nobody he could call, except maybe the area hospitals, but he hadn’t gotten to that stage yet.
He thought about the hospitals and then that huge pile-up at Sixteenth and Freemont. Maybe they were a bunch of day-traders out on a joy-ride, there might be some quasi-morality in that.
There was a knock at the door. Nobody seemed to drop by his place except Jo, but Jo had a key.
He tried to stand up, but what had started as a swig from the bottle of Cointreau Jo had left in his cupboard, turned into half the bottle and a stomach ache.
He weaved his way to the door but stopped with his hand on the doorknob. He really wanted it to be Jo; he could have just lost his key.
Of course he wanted Jo to be safe, but that was never really a question. He really wanted it to be Jo because that would mean the day had finally come to an end.
“I lost my key,” Jo said as Tobie opened the door.
Tobie felt his lip quiver, but he tried his best to put on a cold front. “What’d you do with it.”
“I tied it to some fishing line,” Jo said, brushing past him but letting his head rest against Tobie’s chest for a moment. “It got lost under a Mercury Cougar and a ball of fire,” he said, flopping down on the same green corduroy couch, still bloodstained from Declan’s last visit to the apartment.
Tobie locked up again, and lay down on the couch with his ear resting on Jo’s thigh. “I’m a little pissed off,” he said.
“You smell like Popsicles- D’you buy Popsicles?”
“I drank most of your Cointreau.”
“You’re totally gonna vomit later- But I’ll help you clean it up- Who’re you mad at?”
“What’d I do?” Jo asked curling up and cradling Tobie’s head in his lap as he craned to look at his face. But Tobie looked down at the floor.
“You kinda… made me accessory to mass murder-”
“No way, those were all horrible accidents…. You feel better if I told you they were bank robbers?”
“Were they?” Tobie asked.
“And who’s Chad? He was the guy you were running around with, right?”
“Are you jealous?” Jo asked, running his fingers through Tobie’s hair.
“A little…. Were they really bank robbers?”
“Absolutely- You don’t remember Chad?”
“Chad…. Robin’s-boyfriend-Chad? Why were a bunch of bank robbers looking for him?”
“Well. Can you keep a secret?”
Tobie sat up, feeling suddenly nauseous, and then Jo hopped onto his lap. That made it a lot worse. “Yeah… I can keep a secret.”
“…Chad used to be part of their gang-”
“Jesus Christ… Jesus- Does Robin know?”
“Probably not,” Jo said, nuzzling against his neck. “But I think he’s gonna tell her.”
“What about that crash, the pile-up, what’d they do?”
“Lets just say… they were bank robbers too?”
“…Yeah, that’s fine,” Tobie said.
“I got an idea.”
“…Yeah,” Tobie said.
“How ’bout you play bank robber, and I’ll be your hostage? And I’ve got a really bad case of the Stockholms.”
“I’m way too tired for that,” Tobie said, and he wasn’t sure that was something he’d do in the best of moods. “How about you just be Jo, and I’ll be Tobie.”
“That’s fun too,” Jo said, taking Tobie’s hand and intertwining their fingers.
Tobie closed his eyes and smelled Jo’s hair, sun and wildflowers along with the sweat of a long day. His eyes snapped open again.
He knew he had a question he wanted to ask, but it took a moment to formulate. “What happened to the last guy?” he asked.
Jo didn’t answer and Tobie glanced down to find him asleep. His head was resting against Tobie’s chest and there was a gentle smile on his lips.
Chad spent most of an hour sitting in the street and staring at Robin’s house, at the moths fluttering around the porch-light, and thinking about his options.
Dropping her like a hot rock, more like putting her back on the china-shelf, or letting her back into the wild… leaving her at least, seemed like the best option. But he was pretty sure he would be back on her doorstep within a week.
Maybe trying to be a man and face his problems head on was the more mature thing, he thought, but that seemed like, probably, a desperate attempt at self justification.
He tried his best to stop thinking as he crept his way through the side-yard of Robin’s house, carefully winding through row after row of her grandmother’s tomato plants.
He knelt down next to a little basement-window at the back of her house. His first impulse was to peek inside, but he restrained himself and just knocked.
He thought he heard a clatter from her basement, but there was a long stretch of silence that followed. He was about to knock again when the back door opened.
It was very much like when they’d first met a few weeks before. Robin stood in the doorway in her green bathrobe. Her long black hair looked as soft as her curves, he wanted to jump up and hold her.
The first time they’d met, he’d passed out in her grandmother’s garden after a beating Reilly and the others had given him. They were dead now.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Maybe he had a weird look on his face. He started to feel better looking at her plump shiny-red lips.
“Did I wake you up?” he asked.
“No…. I was watching TV- What time do you think it is? I never pass out until three, but Grandma’s asleep,” she said, leaning against the door frame. “Did you wanna come in?”
“…Yeah,” he said. Any impulse he’d had to squeeze her was gone.
He walked over to her with his arms straight at his sides, but she pried one away and held it in hers as she led him through the kitchen on the way to her basement-lair, but then she stopped.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
He hadn’t eaten since his infinite-noodle-bowl that afternoon, but he still wasn’t hungry. “…Yeah,” he said. Food usually made conversation easier, and if they went down into her basement he might forget why he’d come.
Robin rummaged in the fridge, coming up with a Tupperware container she tossed on the kitchen table. Chad took a seat as she dragged a bag of Lay’s from the cupboard and sat next to him.
“It’s cream-cheese and olives,” she said, “with green onion I think…. Grandma had her friends over for poker. The dip is left-overs, but she said not to eat it all, so you need to tell her you ate it.”
“Sure,” he said, and watched as she started digging in.
He watched her chewing, swallowing, and felt a kind of envy. She was always ready to share, so that wasn’t it. He watched a chip loaded with black-speckled paste move slowly from the bag and then enter her mouth. He felt satisfied for a moment, but then it was gone.
“Is something wrong?” she asked. Her eyes had been staring at him for he-didn’t-know-how-long while he’d been staring at her mouth.
“I used to… be a really bad person-” He felt like something had caught in his throat. “I think I’ve already changed, but I’m not sure, and you’re always so nice to me….”
“…Did you see Scanners?” she asked. “Playing a couple years ago? Psychics?”
“The one where the guy’s head pops?”
“Yeah,” she said. “So, it was playing at the Perenelle, I know the projectionist, Alistair, you know?”
“Yeah,” Chad said. He was a weird guy and they hadn’t talked.
“So anyway, he loaned it to me for the morning, so I could dub a copy- I swiped a frame.” she said, staring down at her lap.
“Right where the head goes boosh. I cut out the best frame and taped it back up. Alistair never noticed,” she said, handing him a chip with slightly more dip than he would have taken.
He chewed quickly and swallowed. Her grandmother was amazing, like she mixed some kind of magic into her Betty Crocker recipes. “…That’s not much- I mean it’s one frame in thirty, right? And his head blows for…. It’s gotta be a couple’a seconds-”
“Exactly. I cut out the best part and nobody even noticed…. Whatever you did, we’re still here right now, so it couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Do you want me to tell you?” he asked.
“…Do you want to tell me?”
“Not at all.”
“Then, just don’t lie to me about it, okay?”
“…I won’t,” he said. He felt like crying again, but he’d held it in so far.
“You’ve got dip,” Robin said, pointing vaguely at his face.
She leaned over, smiling at him, and pecked at his lips. “There,” she said, “all gone.”